Best of our wild blogs: 19 Jun 14

Sponge-check at Changi
from wild shores of singapore

Butterflies Galore! : Lesser Darkwing
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Think dead critters tell no tales? Not so

Mr Chua, who works at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, studies a rat found dead in Paya Lebar.
Regina Marie Lee My Paper AsiaOne 19 Jun 14;

SINGAPORE - He was waiting for the train at Paya Lebar MRT station in April when he spotted a "brown patch" on the East-West Line platform.

"I nearly stepped on this brown patch on the floor. On closer inspection, I realised it was a bat," said Sean Yap.

The 22-year-old National University of Singapore (NUS) life sciences undergraduate was surprised, but quickly tried to salvage the carcass.

He said: "A train had just arrived, so my friend blocked passers-by from stepping on the bat as I used tissue to pick it up, and placed it in a piece of bubble wrap.

"I didn't recognise the bat species, and it was smaller and more fluffy than the common types in Singapore, so I salvaged it for the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) at NUS."

He has tried to salvage other road kill for the museum before.

It was indeed a bat not commonly encountered here, according to LKCNHM officer Marcus Chua. There is only one other confirmed record of this species - the Javan pipistrelle - in Singapore.

Mr Yap explained: "The museum is always on the lookout for specimens because it prefers not to kill animals that are still living."

While a dead wild animal on the roads can be an obstacle or safety hazard for other people, it is a potential specimen for study for the LKCNHM's researchers.

Mr Chua, 30, said: "In the past, people used to shoot and collect wild animals for studying.

"But as we experienced habitat loss and some species became rarer in Singapore, conservation became the priority. Recognising that, (researchers) rely mainly on salvaging dead animals for study."

It is usually officers from the National Parks Board or friends of the museum who report road-kill sightings.

On average, the museum gets a sighting once every two months. They can be found anywhere, but, for mammals, especially at the periphery of nature reserves.

Mr Chua said: "Road-kill specimens are important because every carcass tells a story. Researchers can learn about where the animal came from. It could highlight the certain locations, or tell us what sort of migratory birds are coming to Singapore."

The DNA collected is added to a DNA bank, and chemical analysis done on the animal can highlight environmental pollution.

The leopard cat was thought to be extinct in mainland Singapore, with the last reported sighting in 1968.

But one was run over by a vehicle in Mandai Road in 2001, showing that the species had survived in Singapore.

However, getting the road kill is always a race against time.

"It is a competition with the National Environment Agency," he said, laughing. "They want to keep the roads clean while we want to get the road kill."

Those who spot a dead wild animal can inform the museum on 6516-5082 during office hours, or e-mail

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Effects of El Nino to be felt in Peninsular Malaysia at end of 2014 or early 2015

New Straits Times 18 Jun 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: The effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon will start to be felt in Peninsular Malaysia at the end of this year or early next year, according to the Malaysian Meteorological Society.

Its corporate and commercial services director, Dr Mohd Hisham Mohd Anip said this was due to the peninsula's location which was far from the Pacific Ocean.

"Countries nearer the Pacific Ocean like Indonesia and Australia, as well as Sabah and Sarawak might feel the effects of El Nino earlier than Peninsular Malaysia.

"Besides, the effects cannot be accurately predicted as it would depend on the strength of the El Nino, whether it is at a weak, moderate or strong level," he said when speaking as a guest in the "Dalam Radar" programme of Bernama's Radio 24 at Wisma Bernama, here, today.

The El Nino phenomenon refers to the prolonged warming of surface temperatures over the eastern Pacific Ocean for six months every two to seven years.

On the hot weather in the country now, Mohd Hisham said this was due to the current southwest moonsoon period which brought the heat, less rainfall and less cloud formations. - BERNAMA

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Experts Question Indonesia’s ‘Haze’ Pollution Defenses

Michael Taylor and Kanupriya Kapoor Reuters Jakarta Globe 18 Jun 14;

Jakarta. Indonesia’s promises to tackle the upcoming annual “haze” season with a $30 million fund and limited military equipment have been called into question by experts anticipating worse pollution levels than last year due to the El Nino weather pattern.

Indonesia has failed in previous attempts to stop the regional haze, with last year giving the worst pollution readings since 1997. Outgoing Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was forced in mid-2013 to apologize to neighbors Singapore and Malaysia, which were blanketed in thick smog caused by forest fires in Indonesia.

With expectations high that the El Nino dry weather pattern will hit around the middle of the year, the haze could be worse than in 2013, conservation experts told Reuters.

“We are talking hundreds of thousands of hectares that will probably burn and I doubt (the government) will be able to cover this much of an area,” said David Gaveau, a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research, a conservation organisation based in Indonesia. “We’re expecting El Nino and if it comes, we’re going to see much more fires than last year.”

The heavy smoke from slash-and-burn clearances often comes from the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, where large forest concessions are used by pulp and paper and palm oil companies, some of which are listed in Singapore.

Both palm and pulp and paper companies, which blame small-holders for the fires, have been criticised by green groups for not doing enough to stop the haze or the rampant deforestation and destruction of carbon-rich peatlands in Indonesia.

“Anything to do with fighting the fire as it happens is fine, but this is not really going to tackle the problem of why there is a fire in the first place,” Gaveau added. “The root problem is overlapping claims over land ownership.”

As a sign of things to come, earlier this year Indonesia’s Riau province off Sumatra island declared a state of emergency as haze from raging forest fires disrupted flights and marine navigation and tens of thousands fell sick with respiratory problems. The airport in the provincial capital closed for more than three weeks.

To prepare this year, Indonesia has put aside $30 million and will have 2,500 military personnel on standby, with 15 aeroplanes and helicopters helping with water-bombing, monitoring and cloud-seeding efforts, Sutopo Nugroho, spokesman at the Indonesian disaster management agency, told Reuters.

Singapore has also offered assistance in assessing and putting out forest fires in Indonesia and proposed a law to punish individuals and companies outside its borders that are responsible for polluting its air.

With presidential elections due to take place on July 9, Yudhoyono, who has reached his two-term limit, introduced a moratorium on forest clearing during his ten years in office and will be keen to maintain his environmental credentials.

“This year we have prepared the technology and … local governments have also been asked to identify and arrest the perpetrators early,” Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Agung Laksono told Reuters.


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Global warming will affect most of Indonesian: Forestry minister

Antara 18 Jun 14;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia is considered as one of the developing countries that is worst affected by global warming, because Indonesia has thousands of islands and many are small, Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said.

Zulkifli said the small islands in developing countries have been predicted to be the most affected areas.

"These are the most vulnerable areas due to the threat of floods and storms, including rise in sea level because of global warming," he reported at the "Indonesia Green Award 2014" here on Wednesday.

For that reason, great effort must be taken and people should be made aware of the dangers of climate change to human beings.

The forestry minister stated that Indonesian government has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 26 percent by 2020, as an effort to cope with the impacts of climate change.

According to Zulkifli, various measures have been taken by the Ministry of Forestry, including the suspension of new permit for the conversion of primary forests and peat lands, combating illegal logging and illegal timber trade, and also completing forest land tenure.

Also, measures have been taken to prevent forest fires and rehabilitate damaged forests and land through the construction of permanent nurseries, and "Planting One Billion Tree" program.(*)
Editor: Heru

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Thailand: Dead turtles, dolphins wash up at Phuket’s Mai Khao Beach

The Phuket News 18 Jun 14;

PHUKET: Five turtles and two dolphins have died at Mai Khao Beach in the last month or so, with the majority left drowned or injured after they were caught in fishing nets.

Sea Turtle Conservation Centre Manager Kitiphat Sapkoon said the turtles were Olive Ridley and Hawksbill.

Officials believed they sea animals died from being trapped in fishing nets because there are often many nets washed up on the beach, and some of the turtles had fishing-net related injuries.

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Squid avoid warmer waters off Japan; catches decline by 35%

TSUYOSHI NAGANO Asahi Shimbun 18 Jun 14;

Rising sea temperatures are pushing Japanese common squid populations toward the Korean Peninsula, leaving Japanese fishermen with dwindling catches and fears for the future of their livelihoods, industry officials said.

Japanese common squid, which account for 80 percent of the domestic squid catch, used to be caught all along the Sea of Japan coast of Honshu for more than half a year. But the squid are now veering away from Japan on their southern migration run, resulting in a shortened fishing season.

According to the Japan Squid Fisheries Association, squid fishermen now must travel long distances to reach remote fishing grounds while competing against an increasing number of Chinese fishing vessels.

The situation has been particularly hard on small boat fishermen.

In Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture, the number of squid fishing boats has decreased from 101 in 1998 to 16.

“Due to the cheap prices of squid, rising fuel prices and global warming, everyone has given up fishing,” said Tadao Katagiri, the 66-year-old head of a local squid fisheries association.

Thanks to the change in fishing grounds, South Korea’s average annual catch of common squid between 2002 and 2012 increased 3.4 times to 110,000 tons. During the same period, Japan’s annual catch dropped by 35 percent to 80,000 tons.

In the 1980s, the monthly catch of common squid off the coast from Akita to Yamaguchi prefectures exceeded 2,000 tons from May to December, according to a study by Hideaki Kidokoro, who heads the resources management group of the Japan Sea National Fisheries Research Institute in Niigata.

However, in the 2000s, that catch level was only seen from May to July, he said.

Kidokoro attributes the decrease to warmer water temperatures from spring to autumn. In the Tsushima warm current region that runs along the Sea of Japan coast, the water temperature in autumn rose from around 19 degrees to 20 degrees in 1998, he said.

Squid spawn eggs from autumn to the year-end in the Sea of Japan from the Sanin Region to western Kyushu. The young common squid normally move up to northern areas of Japan by the summer before returning south to their spawning grounds.

But now, instead of migrating south along the Japanese coast, the squid are moving toward the cooler waters off the Asian continent, including the Korean Peninsula.

The spring to autumn temperatures there are apparently more suitable for the squid than those for the waters off Japan.

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Australia on notice over Great Barrier Reef's environmental damage

Tom Arup The Age Sydney Morning Herald 18 Jun 14;

Australia has been given another year to avoid the Great Barrier Reef being put on a list of World Heritage protected sites considered "in danger", but has received an international dressing down for a recent approval of dredging and dumping in the natural wonder’s waters.

At a meeting in Doha, the World Heritage Committee agreed to keep the threat of putting the reef on the "in danger" list hanging over Australia’s head, but pushed back consideration of the move until a meeting in 2015.

It gives Australia another 12 months to keep addressing concerns first raised by the United Nation’s heritage body – UNESCO – back in 2012 about the health of the reef and the impact of significant new port and resources development on the reef shoreline.

As part of its decision the committee approved recommendations from UNESCO that "concern" and "regret" be expressed about the federal government’s approval of dredging and dumping of 3 million cubic metres of sludge in the reef’s waters as part of the development of new coal ports at Abbot Point, north of Bowen.

But there was debate. During the meeting, Malaysian delegates sought to remove references to concern and regret in the decision, but failed when the majority of other member countries of the committee spoke against the move. Malaysia also wanted the text to be changed to remove UNESCO’s concern that the approval was made before a comprehensive assessment of less impactful alternatives was undertaken, and instead say a full assessment had been carried out.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said he was pleased the Committee did not list the reef as "in danger" and had acknowledged the significant work and progress of Australia in protecting the reef.

"UNESCO started the consideration of the reef’s health under the previous Labor government in June 2011. Since that time they have now formally recognised significant work and progress in reef protection," Mr Hunt said.

Mr Hunt said the Australia and Queensland governments were jointly investing about $180 million annually in the reef’s health.
He said the approval of Abbot Point development had complied with Australia’s obligations under the World Heritage Convention and was subject to rigorous environmental assessment.

Earlier Australia's representative at the meeting said the suggestion the country had not carried out a complete approval process was "factually incorrect".

Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell also spoke on Australia's behalf, pointing to substantial progress on the concerns about the reef's health through new strategic plans to guide port development and reduced pollution run-off, among other measures.

Speaking before the decision on Wednesday, Mr Powell told ABC radio the committee was being misinformed about the health of the reef.

"A lot of misinformation is being conveyed to the World Heritage Committee and to the member states, and that’s the importance of why I’ve come here," Mr Powell said.

Last week the federal and Queensland governments sought to allay concerns the reef’s World Heritage status would be downgraded after it released a report showing large reductions in pollution run-off into the reef’s waters - one of the main sources of poor water quality in the World Heritage site - following years of work with landholders.

As part of its decision the World Heritage Committee welcomed the progress made by the two governments on water quality and encouraged them to continue and where necessary expand their efforts.

WWF campaigner Richard Leck, who is also in Doha and addressed the meeting, said the committee had stood firm on the need for stronger reef protection and had maintained its strong language about the approval of the Abbot Point dredging and dumping.

"This decision puts the Australian government on notice for 2015 that they need to lift their efforts to avoid the reef being listed as in danger next year," he said.

Also as part of the decision the World Heritage Committee said it considered the move by the Abbott government to devolve federal environmental approval powers to the states as premature before a long-term plan for sustainable development for the reef was adopted.

Labor environment spokesman Mark Butler said the world heritage committee had delivered a harsh verdict on the government's management of the reef.

"With this latest warning from the World Heritage Committee, Labor calls on Tony Abbott to reconsider his dangerous handover of federal environmental approval powers," Mr Butler said.

“Protection of the Great Barrier Reef should be the responsibility of the national government. That’s how the World Heritage Committee sees it; it’s how Australians see it too."

Greens environment spokeswoman Larissa Waters said the committee had given the Australian and Queensland governments one last chance to better protect the reef.

“This is the third and probably the final warning from the World Heritage Committee for the future of our reef,” she said.

UN expresses alarm about proposed dumping in Great Barrier Reef
Approval for dumping dredged material as part of Abbot Point coal development could place site on Unesco list of shame
Karl Mathiesen 18 Jun 14;

The UN has expressed alarm at Australia’s proposal to dump 3m cubic metres of dredged material into the Great Barrier Reef world heritage site, saying the development could place the site on Unesco’s list of shame.

The Australian and Queensland governments have granted approval for dumping as part of the expansion of the Abbot Point coal port, which lies on the fringes of the reef.

At the annual meeting of the Unesco world heritage committee in Doha, delegates “noted with concern” the Abbot Point project. Australia was warned the reef could be added to the World Heritage in Danger list at the next meeting in 2015 if alternative development methods were not considered.

The committee said it: “regrets the state party’s approval for dumping 3m cubic metres of dredge material inside the property prior to having undertaken a comprehensive assessment of alternative and potentially less impacting development and disposal options”.

Conservation groups have said the dumping could irreparably damage the coral. The reef survives on a delicate symbiosis between its plants and animals. Corals provide the skeleton on which the entire ecosystem is built. These interactions are already significantly threatened by the runoff of agricultural chemicals and destruction of increasingly fragile corals by cyclones. In three decades the coral cover on the reef has fallen by 50%.

Australian efforts to improve the water quality on the reef were praised by Unesco. A recent government study found efforts to improve water quality were working, leading the Australian and Queensland government to call for Unesco to drop its consideration of the site as threatened.

But Australian promises that dredging effects would be offset by a 150% overall improvement were called into question by delegates who said they had not seen a concrete proposal for how this would be achieved. Australia responded by saying the 150% improvement was legally binding and would therefore be achieved, but failed to demonstrate how this would happen.

Questions were also raised over Australia’s decision to transfer oversight of environmental decisions from the federal government to the Queensland state government. The committee said the move was “premature, and should be postponed to allow further consideration” of the effect this might have on the management of the park.

The World Heritage in Danger list is dominated by sites in countries torn apart by conflict. It is used to urge, assist and sometimes embarrass countries into protecting the properties they manage that are significant to all humankind. Icons of Syria, Congo, Iraq and Afghanistan make up one third of the 45 of the listed properties. If the reef were to be placed on the list it would join just a handful of sites from developed countries to be considered threatened.

“The world heritage committee has resisted intense pressure from the Australian and Queensland governments to water down its decision on the reef,” said WWF-Australia reef campaigner Richard Leck. “Instead, the committee has put Australia firmly on notice to take stronger action to protect the Great Barrier Reef."

Australia has promised to deliver a long-term plan for sustainable development before the committee next meets in 2015. The government says this will provide assurances to the committee that it is able to protect the reef.

The Queensland environment minister, Andrew Powell, was in Doha to make the Australian case to delegates. He said he felt "overwhelmingly positive, very appreciative that the committee has not listed the reef in danger and has deferred its consideration for another 12 months". This would give the government enough time to deliver comprehensive plans for the ongoing care of the reef, he said.

Powell said the concerns over the approval of the dredging process being given before an offsetting plan had been created were unfounded.

"The approval was given on the basis that 150% offsetting can be achieved. So the project cannot proceed unless they can demonstrate that they achieve that 150% offset."

Australia makes strides in cleaning up Great Barrier Reef - U.N. body
James Regan PlanetArk 20 Jun 14;

The United Nations on Wednesday said Australia was making progress to preserve the Great Barrier Reef, a key tourist attraction that environmentalists say faces threats from industrial and agricultural development.

The World Heritage Committee of U.N. agency UNESCO, meeting in Doha this week, deferred until 2015 a decision on whether to place the 300,000-sq-km reef on its list of sites in danger.

"We welcome Australia's progress in managing the reef," panel director Kishore Rao said in a statement. "UNESCO is confident the overall direction towards next year's decision is a positive one."

Some estimates say contamination from agricultural and mining industries operating near the coastline has destroyed half of the reef's coral cover, but this figure is disputed.

"The committee has put Australia firmly on notice to take stronger action to protect the Great Barrier Reef," said Richard Leck, a spokesman for the World Wildlife Fund.The reef has the world's largest collection of coral reefs, with 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish, 4,000 types of mollusc, and is home to threatened species, including the dugong and large green turtle, according to the World Heritage list.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation is concerned over proposed coastal developments, including the building of ports and natural gas facilities.

It has asked Australia to submit an updated report on the state of conservation of the reef, which sprawls over an area half the size of Texas, by next February 1.

Germany's largest bank, Deutsche Bank AG, has said it will not finance a controversial coal port expansion near the reef, in response to calls from green groups and tourism operators. [ID:nL3N0O90L3]

An Australian government report released last week showed a drop in sediment run-off, widely associated with one of the reef's biggest threats - the displacement of coral-eating starfish.

The report also cited better land management that led to a 28 percent cut in pesticide run-off on to the reef.

Sugarcane is grown on large tracts of land near the reef, while coal freighters regularly ply nearby waters.

Australia is investing about A$180 million ($169.18 million) every year to protect and rehabilitate the reef, says Environment Minister Greg Hunt.

"The Great Barrier Reef is facing challenges but we are absolutely committed to protecting and improving the health of this iconic natural wonder so it can be enjoyed by future generations," Hunt said in a statement.

(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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